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Written by Jane Kellogg Murray

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The Big Bend feeder town of Terlingua is no ghost town the first weekend in November. That’s because every year for half a century, the former mining outpost has hosted up to 20,000 chiliheads vying to help crown the year’s best chili con carne. It all began in 1967 as a cookoff between two chili aficionados: Wick Fowler of the Chili Appreciation Society International, and H. Allen Smith, a former New Yorker who had published a magazine article titled, “Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do.” As the legend goes, the two men tied (despite Smith’s use of beans in his recipe—an abomination by Texas standards), and so began the tradition of returning to the west Texas desert each year. Today, hundreds of chili cooks compete all year in order to obtain an invitation to compete in Terlingua Nov. 1-4. The cookoff splintered into two festivals in 1983: the Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff and the Terlingua International Chili Championship, held concurrently on the same weekend, just a few miles apart, so now—in addition to arguing about who makes the best bowl of chili—attendees can argue about which cookoff is better. Regular attendees get in the spirit all week long by camping in tents and RVs, and enjoying live music nightly.

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Hundreds of Native American dancers, drummers, and artists will converge in Austin Nov. 4 for the 26th annual Austin Powwow. Last year it relocated to the Austin Expo Center to welcome 30,000 attendees, one of the largest single-day powwows in the country. The intertribal event brings together approximately 80 tribes—from Texas of course, but also South Carolina, Oklahoma, Standing Rock, Canada, and Central America—to celebrate their different tribal heritages and histories. 

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The six flags of Texas are well known, but in Nacogdoches—the oldest town in Texas—three more flags found their way into the history books. The earliest of these lesser-known flags is an emerald banner for the Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition (1812 to 1813), a short-lived army that controlled territory east of San Antonio. The second flag, a red-striped Lone Star flag, represents Dr. James Long and his expedition to Nacogdoches from 1819 to 1821 before he was captured by Spanish troops and killed. And the third flag, carrying the words “Independence, Freedom, and Justice” belongs to the Republic of Fredonia, proclaimed by Texas settler Haden Edwards from 1826 to 1827 following the revocation of a land grant from the Mexican government. For more than two decades, the city has paid homage to its rebellious historyby kicking off the holiday season in style during Nine Flags Festival (Nov. 12-Dec. 9). Festivities include a parade and an installation of more than 3 million lights downtown. 

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Hues of every color on the spectrum will cover the pavement surrounding Houston’s Hermann Square at City Hall as the city reinvents its annual street painting festival, Via Colori, Nov. 18–19. Some 25,000 attendees will head to the 12th annual event to witness more than 200 Texan and international artists colorize the streets using pastel chalks—creating ephemeral artwork that will only remain for two days. Proceeds benefit The Center for Hearing and Speech, a local organization that helps children with hearing loss learn to listen, speak, and read. The festival’s theme, “70 Years in Color,” will celebrate the center’s 70 years of service. 

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Leagues of literati will crowd the capital city for the 22nd annual Texas Book Festival Nov. 4–5. Founded in 1995 by former librarian and then-First Lady of Texas Laura Bush, the festival expects an estimated 40,000 readers of all ages to meet more than 250 featured authors, such as Gail Simmons—Top Chef judge and author of a new cookbook for adventurous eaters—and Roger D. Hodge, former Harper's editor and author of a new book out in October: “Texas Blood: Seven Generations Among the Outlaws, Ranchers, Indians, Missionaries, Soldiers, and Smugglers of the Borderlands.” In addition to author panels, signings, and vendor booths, the free Austin festival offers an opportunity to bike, run, kayak, or practice yoga on the Capitol lawn with select authors. New this year: birdwatching with Victor Emanuel. 

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No couple has made more of an impact on Waco than Chip and Joanna Gaines. In 2014, the HGTV darlings took on their biggest Fixer Upper to date, opening Magnolia Market in an abandoned cotton oil mill and silos downtown. The venue became a fast favorite for residents and I-35 travelers between Dallas and Austin looking for some retail therapy, and Oct. 12–14 it celebrates its third annual Silobration with a vendor fair of more than 90 artisans and food trucks from around the country. After hours, Johnnyswim and Jon Foreman will perform live on the Silos stage with a special appearance by Chip and Jo.

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The ephemeral art of sand sculpting will rise from the sandy beaches of South Padre Island Oct. 4–8 when an expected 30,000 visitors will head to the city’s sun-soaked shores for Sandcastle Days. Thirty years ago, island residents Walter McDonald and Lucinda Wierenga (aka “Amazin’ Walter and Sandy Feet, respectively) founded this annual beach dweller favorite as a way to demonstrate the magical sculpting qualities of South Padre Island sand in addition to educating attendees about the destructive impact trash can have on Texas’ beaches, coastline, and ocean wildlife—including an informal “fashion show” where “models” wear clothing made from trash found on the beach.

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Villainy may be afoot—though so should plenty of champions—as the Texas Renaissance Festival celebrates heroes and villains of history and literature in this year’s newest themed weekend. Beginning Sept. 30 with Oktoberfest and ending Nov. 26 with Celtic Christmas, the 43rd annual festival offers nine themed weekends to gallivant about the 16th-century European village’s 60 acres in Todd Mission. See new acts like The Dublin Harpers and Cirque Mythos, or enjoy favorites like Pride O’ Bedlam and Iris and Rose. Other changes include a medieval torture museum, an expanded Polish Pub and Greek Agora, and a new coffee bar and hookah lounge. With plenty of food to try, performers to watch, and more than 500 shops to explore, time may be the greatest villain. 

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Opening Sept. 11 at the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin, “Mexico Modern: Art, Commerce, and Cultural Exchange, 1920–1945” will showcase two decades of modern Mexican art and design and the ways in which it propelled a dialogue between Mexico and its neighbors across the Rio Grande. The Austin exhibit will boast more than 200 items from artists including Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, graphic designer Miguel Covarrubias, and jewelry designer William Spratling through Jan. 1 before traveling to the Museum of the City of New York. 

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Not every community can fondly recall the good ol’ days when mermaids would swim and play in the local waters, but San Marcos can. Between the 1950s and the 1990s, San Marcos was home to Aquarena Springs, one of Texas’ most popular theme parks featuring a submerged theater where the “Aquamaids” performed graceful underwater dances and other playful antics. Though the theme park is long gone, memories of the city’s thriving mermaid culture live through a new festival Sept. 2–17, SMTX Mermaid Splash. With a series of family activities, social events, and educational forums on a variety of San Marcos topics, this second annual fete is as much a party for the beautiful San Marcos River as it is an affirmation of the local community and the mermaids who work to protect it. The 16-day festival wraps up with its three biggest events—the Mermaid Society Ball on Sept. 15 and the Mermaid Parade and Aqua Faire on Sept. 16.

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From fields of rubbish to exceptionally curated tents of antique décor, vintage shopping has never been better than it will be this fall in Round Top. More than 100,000 antique hunters from across the country are expected to make their biannual trek to this tiny town as a slew of vendors open up shop, including the Arbor International Antiques & Interior Design Show, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary Sept. 20–30; Zapp Hall, which celebrates 30 years Sept. 29–October 7; the Marburger Farm Antique Show, which commemorated its 20th anniversary this past spring and returns Sept. 26–30; and the one that started it all—the Original Round Top Antiques Fair—which celebrates a milestone 50-year anniversary Sept. 25–30

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It's going to be a hot one this weekend. So, what can you do to get your mind off the sizzling temps? Stare at the stars in Boerne, celebrate the National Day of the American Cowboy in Bandera or Amarillo, or cool off at Cool River Ranch near San Marcos for one of the most unique music festivals in the state: Float Fest.

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